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AI for Earth and Our Oceans

By Lucas Joppa, Chief Environmental Scientist, Microsoft

October 10, 2017

Since Microsoft launched its new AI for Earth program in July, we’ve seen a tremendous response from the global conservation and environmental research community. The program was built on the premise that Microsoft’s AI infrastructure and applications can transform how the world monitors and responds to the ever-increasing scale and speed of changes we see in our natural world. Realizing this ambition, though, requires removing some key barriers to adoption that individuals and organizations working on these problems currently face.

Today, I’m pleased to announce two important milestones in addressing this issue of access.

20 applicants doing research in 10 countries have now received the first-ever AI for Earth grants. We’ve funded $235,000 in Azure compute resources across the four focus areas of our AI for Earth program—agriculture, water, biodiversity and climate change. These grantees include universities, non-profits and research arms of governments who will now be able to pursue their research, empowered by Microsoft cloud and AI tools.

We are constantly seeking new proposals, and the next grant application cycle closes on October 15. As these projects mature, we will be featuring in-depth stories of the researchers, their organizations, and the AI-empowered solutions they are building.

We are also announcing, today, a new AI for Earth EU Oceans Award, which is an extension of our grants program to a particularly important topic area – our oceans. Covering nearly 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, oceans play an outsized role in the health of our planet. They generate much of the oxygen we breathe, provide food and livelihoods for billions of people around the world, and support a vast and incredible array of species, many of which have not yet been discovered or described. Unfortunately, our oceans are changing, becoming increasingly acidic and polluted, with profound implications for societies around the world.

Producing solutions to these challenges is the topic of an international conversation happening this week at the Our Ocean conference in Malta. John Frank, Microsoft’s Vice President of European Union Government Affairs, is attending that conference and announced the new AI for Earth EU Oceans Award, dedicated to providing Azure compute resources and AI tools to European-based research organizations that work on ocean-related challenges. Applications open today, October 6, and close on December 15.

With our Microsoft headquarters in Seattle, WA, and operations in coastal cities around the world, we have seen firsthand the large-scale impact of our changing oceans, as well as ways in which technology can help us address these issues. In the Puget Sound, for example, we worked with the University of Washington to create a cloud-based storage system to model the water in this region, and then used that information to make predictions about times of peak acidification. That system helped local oyster farmers at Taylor Shellfish improve their shellfish harvests by carefully monitoring ocean chemistry to prevent the sudden loss of “seed” crops that’s caused by ocean acidification. And in partnership with Microsoft Australia, ag-tech business The Yield is utilizing an IoT approach that uses sensors, cloud computing and machine learning to track salinity, temperature and weather that impact oyster harvests.

Technology can have a dramatic, positive impact on local communities and economies by helping them better manage their natural resources. We are excited about our new AI for Earth grantees and our new EU Oceans Award, and look forward to expanding the success of the many projects we are supporting to better understand and manage Earth’s many ecosystems, both on land and in the water.

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